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Legal expert says EA vs Zynga suit is “playing with fire”, settlement a likely outcome

Saturday, 4th August 2012 15:20 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Eric Goldman has weighed in on the copyright infringement suit EA has brought against Zynga, stating that EA may be “playing with fire” in this case.

Speaking with Gamespot, Goldman, who specializes in Internet Law and Intellectual Property Law, said what stood out the most in EA’s complaint over The Ville copying The Sims Social, were “conspicuous changes” Zynga made to items similar in both titles.

Goldman specifically pointed to paragraph 94 of the complaint where EA notes a “toilet versus the toilet paper” issue.

“What Zynga took, and I don’t think they’re going to argue it, is that there’s a thought bubble that’s going to remind people about bathrooms,” he said. “But the thought bubble is shaped differently, and it’s a toilet [instead of] toilet paper. So can you take the idea of having a thought bubble to suggest that a character needs to go to the bathroom?

“I think that’s free for everyone to take. You can’t take the way it’s expressed, perhaps. That’s something that ultimately goes to the jury. These kind of game rip-off cases are very difficult. They’re hard to predict in advance. They tend to be quite costly. I don’t have a prediction on who got it right or who’s going to emerge victorious.”

Goldman said lawsuits such as this are rather rare in the games industry between the “big players” because copying of gameplay “is rampant in the industry.”

“I don’t know EA’s catalog well enough to know where they might be vulnerable on this point, but it’s kind of the way the entire industry is built,” he said. “All of the big players all have games in the same basic niches trying to provide the same basic gameplay. So there’s disincentive for any big player to try to break new law about the copying of gameplay. They might win that case, but it might blow up on all the other things they try to do in the rest of the catalog.

“[A settlement] would be a logical outcome because neither party wants to be proven wrong at the end. They both have incentives not to lose this case. One solution would be Zynga could go through and reprogram the things EA complained about so they look less alike.

“EA says, ‘They changed their game.’ Zynga says, ‘We didn’t really change anything.’ Everyone goes away happy. That would be a logical outcome.”

Goldman continued, stating he though EA was “playing with fire here,” as it would not be in the firm’s best interest to “break new law and have an extensive interpretation of gameplay rip-offs.”

“I don’t see how that’s a win for them, so that’s another reason they might be motivated to settle,” he said.

Zynga should respond in kind to the suit within a few weeks or even months, but once the firm issues a formal response, the case could take months or even years rolling about in the judicial system before it reaches a “logical conclusion in the courts.”

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